“Transport should be accessible for everyone. Accessible buses, coaches, trains and taxis make it easier for people to visit friends, get to the shops or to work. It’s good for the economy and means fewer car journeys, which reduces carbon emissions.”
[Introduction to the government’s accessible transport policy.]
This the second of three short articles examining some of the challenges posed by different modes of transport if you suffer chronic pain. In this article we consider travelling on public transport, principally trains and buses.
If you suffer chronic pain there will be innumerable hurdles, psychological and physical, to be overcome before you can consider using public transport. Fear and anxiety are the principal psychological hurdles. Crowds, people knocking into you, rushing to catch the train or bus, enclosed spaces, no available seats, the bumping and jerking of the ride; these are the realities of travelling on public transport that most people have become conditioned to.
If you suffer chronic pain, however, just the thought of any one of them can present an insurmountable hurdle. And simply leaving home in plenty of time and travelling off-peak is not the magic solution, whatever others might say!
So, if transport really should “be accessible for everyone”, what can any less able passenger expect from public transport providers?
This is what National Rail has to say about travelling by train if you have a disability.
“Do you need any extra help travelling by train? Here is a quick guide of what you can expect from all train companies as a customer with a disability.
Helping you with your journey
You can book to get help at any station for any train journey.
The train company can organise for someone to:
• meet you at the entrance or meeting point and accompany you to your train
• provide a ramp on and off your train if you need one
• meet you from your train and take you to your next train or the exit
• carry your bag (up to three items of luggage as per the National Conditions of Travel)
You can book help at short notice. Some companies may ask for up to 24 hours’ notice.”
A list of contact details for train operating companies is also provided.
Of course, this is all dependent upon advance planning and notice. What should happen if you just turn up at the station?
“Staff will help you if they can, even if you just turn up. Sometimes this might take a bit of time because staff will have other things to do, like dispatch a train or look after safety on the platform. If staff are not able to help you they will explain clearly why not.”
And in reality?
Unsurprisingly, finding people who have experienced rail travel as a chronic pain sufferer is not easy. In fact, I have only managed to identify three people who have travelled by train since developing their conditions.
In fairness, as far as the helpfulness of the rail staff and the service generally were concerned, the feedback was reasonably positive, although in one case the rail staff were not expecting them which caused some delay.
The main problem, however, has nothing to do with the rail staff or the train operating company. However helpful they are they just cannot cocoon you from fellow passengers, prevent the sudden jerking of the carriage or make the seats more comfortable.
One thing though to note about rail travel is the availability of the Disabled Persons Railcard which allows the holder and an adult companion travelling with you to save one third on the rail fare.
The feedback regarding bus travel for those suffering chronic pain was pretty much entirely negative. Bus travel is an even less inviting prospect than travelling by train. One client, John, who used the bus to attend a medical appointment when his usual lift was unavailable, simply told me “never again!”
Just as with train operators, bus operators such as Arriva and First Group have their disability policies which deal principally with accessibility. However, no matter how accessible the bus, in reality there is not a lot that bus companies can do to alleviate the condition of the roads and the unpredictability of other road users and the effect that has on the movement of the bus. Also, the comfort of the seats, the available space and resultant crowding are usually worse than the train.
Interestingly, John said that the worst part of his experience was having to justify to a fellow passenger why he was sitting in a priority seat!
Finally, although not usually within most people’s definition of public transport, just a quick word about taxis and private hire vehicles.
In many cities, Taxis (as opposed to private hire vehicles) are now required to be accessible for wheelchair users. Whilst the majority of chronic pain sufferers are not wheelchair dependent, it does at least mean that the taxi should have more room. On a practical level though, a common complaint is that even if taxis are available for hire, they will often fail to stop when hailed by somebody who clearly has mobility issues, presumably considering them ‘a difficult fare’.
If your journey can be planned ahead, however, many private hire companies have larger vehicles in their fleet. There should be no additional cost over and above the fare for a standard vehicle for local journeys. A straw poll of a couple of private hire firms in my locality revealed them to be willing to listen and seemingly keen to accommodate anyone with a disability if they have sufficient notice. And at least a private hire vehicle cannot ‘sail on by’!